The 7 Characteristics That Set Great Leaders Apart

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Editor’s note: TLNT is continuing an annual tradition by counting down the most popular posts of the year. This is No. 32. Our regular content will return in January.

No one is perfect, and that goes for our leaders too — even though we may wish differently for them.

We want them to be near perfect in their ability to inspire us to do great work, accomplish important things for the organization, and lead us with humanity and unquestionable character.

Great leaders spend a lot of time thinking about how to improve their organizations and the people within them. Deb Cheslow, author of Remarkable Courage, has spent a lot of time thinking about what makes a great leader, and the characteristics below are adapted from her writings.

  1. Do the right things, even when no one is watching. Have integrity and character to complement your ability to get things done. It’s easy to do the right thing when you have an audience, but it takes courage and strength of character to do the right thing when you’re alone. Stay true to your values even when everyone around you is floundering, or when popular opinion goes against what you know in your heart to be right.
  2. Take personal responsibility. Follow rules, report facts accurately, treat people fairly, and don’t lie, cheat, or steal to advance your agenda. Hold yourself accountable for your actions and decisions and for the actions of the people under your authority. Don’t make excuses; take the blame when things go wrong and make sure those who do the work get the credit when things go right. Attack root causes of problems and never blame others.
  3. Do whatever it takes, but minimize collateral damage. Achieve outcomes without leaving your followers exhausted, damaged, or demoralized. Achieve your goals within moral and ethical boundaries. Don’t be a leader who falls prey to poor decision making or compromises their character and integrity for what might feel good in the moment.
  4. Develop followers. Build the skills and talents of others and make employees partners in the process of accomplishing goals. Empower your staff to continually improve, share your knowledge and experience generously, and press your team to achieve more, realizing that everyone will be better off the more frequently employees do great work and achieve great success.
  5. Never go it alone. Absorb the input and counsel of numerous advisors, both from similar and opposing perspectives, then devise solutions based upon a well-rounded view of the problem. Understand that it is naïve to believe you’ve considered every possible angle of an issue without seeking outside counsel from a varied and extended network.
  6. Leave people and things better than you found them. Always make a positive difference that benefits everyone. Even when you inherit a situation that’s less than ideal, provide inspiration for rebuilding bigger and better than before.
  7. Be courageous. Defy logic and conventional wisdom and blaze new trails. Don’t dwell on why something can’t be done, but only consider how it might be accomplished. Make a decision, announce it, and then you and your team should set about making it a reality.

What are the leadership traits you value most and believe are essential in a great leader?

This was originally published on the OC Tanner blog.